Bear Attack In New Jersey: Police Say 300-Pound Bear That Killed Student Was Not Provoked

A black bear attacked and killed a 22-year-old Rutgers University student in a New Jersey state park on September 21 and police are still trying to figure out details. But on Monday, West Milford, New Jersey, Police Chief Tim Storbeck quashed allegations that Darsh Patel or one of his fellow hikers had somehow provoked or antagonized the bear.

Storbeck said that the police investigation had turned up “no indication” that any of the five hikers “harassed or taunted the bear in any way.”

But he added that police are still looking to talk to an unidentified couple who had been hiking in the Apshawa Preserve and who spoke to Patel and his friends shortly before the bear attack.

The other hikers warned Patel’s group about the presence of a bear along the hiking trails, according to Storbeck’s account, which he said had been pieced together from interviews with the surviving four members of Patel’s hiking party.

“This couple encountered the five gentlemen and there was a conversation about the bear,” Storbeck said. But he added that his department was “still reaching out” to the couple, who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Why Patel’s group proceeded with their hike, or whether the couple told them that the bear was acting in a strange or threatening manner, are among the aspects of the bear attack case still being investigated, Storbeck indicated.

According to the account pieced together by police, Patel and his four hiking companions came across the bear which approached them aggressively. All five men ran in separate directions. But the bear chased Patel, catching up to him and apparently mauling him to death.

When police located Patel a bear was still present, circling the fallen student’s body and appearing to act in an aggressive manner. After numerous attempts to shoo the bear from the area, a police officer shot and killed the bear.

A necropsy — basically an autopsy on an animal — is being conducted on the bear and investigators hope it gives some clue as to why the bear would attack the hiker. For example, to determine if the bear was suffering from a disease such as rabies, or was starving.

Investigators are also not 100 percent certain that the bear killed by the police officer is the same bear who carried out the fatal attack on Patel. Larry Hanja, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said that in rare instances, an animal will attempt to claim another animal’s kill.

Hanja called the bear attack that killed Patel a rarity and said that the public should not fear entering the woods in New Jersey state parks. The fatal bear attack was the first in New Jersey since 1852.

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